Dark City (1998)

Director: Alex Proyas
Rufus SewellKiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt
Plot: A man struggles with memories of his past, including a wife he cannot remember, in a nightmarish world with no sun and run by beings with telekinetic powers who seek the souls of humans.

Awards: -
Runtime: 100min/111min (director's cut)
Rating: NC16
for violent images and some sexuality. 



“You still don't understand, John. You were never a boy. Not in this place.

One of the most influential science-fiction films of the ‘90s, Dark City is Alex Proyas’ masterwork. He marries outstanding visuals to an ingenious storyline, creating an otherworldly experience that raises the bar for its genre. A primary influence on Wachowskis’ The Matrix (1999), Dark City is the ‘90s answer to Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott’s unparalleled vision of the future; one that is gloomy, dark, and upsettingly bleak. 

Proyas’ Dark City is a textbook example on how to successfully make an artistic film with the use of technology and CGI effects. He shows his range with the camera, employing different techniques like tracking shots, wide pans etc. with varying angles to draw viewers into the scene.

As much as it is an influence to other films, Dark City shares similar traits to the architectural composition of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). The perfect symmetry and the occasional assorted strangeness of shapes and sizes of buildings and other establishments as they hide in the contouring shadows of each other echo the German Expressionistic style of that era. 

Dark City is a film noir with the main character, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), playing an anti-hero or a reluctant savior of sorts in a world that is controlled by The Strangers, a band of struggling survivors who have the ability to stop time and alter reality. Murdoch, framed for murder, is pursued by the local police, as well as The Strangers who want his memories so that they can find the key to unlock the human soul. 

Bright colours are used sparingly when Murdoch recollects memories of a distant past, a striking contrast to the desaturated reality that Proyas has envisioned in his film. The action sequences are not groundbreaking but they give jolts of excitement sporadically, injecting energy to the film which is not at all fast-paced. Dark City does not work as a kinetic action-thriller (we shall leave that to The Matrix); rather it is an exercise in science-fiction exposition and experimental filmmaking. 

There is a tendency in Proyas to overindulge in CGI effects, though in Dark City he does it with some credibility. The climax is spectacular in the good versus evil sense but not so in terms of execution; viewers will be more interested in judging the cheesy effects than being awed by them.

There is a sequence of Murdoch breaking down a wall in his quest to find the truth about the world he lives in; it then reveals an extraordinary, bold shot of science-fiction grandeur that reflects the very essence that drives Proyas’ ingenuity.


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daniel said…
I really loved this movie, its one of the best sci-fi released (recently).
And then came the ending which, in my opinion, ruined the film and its tension which was so carefully built up from the start.

Could have gotten a 9/10. but its stupid ending marred it to 8/10.
Eternality said…
It's been more than two years since I last caught this. I didn't remember the ending to be that bad. I shall revisit the film some day. I still remember I loved the art direction and the use of color.

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